Delay Sought on Long Leases of Surplus Schools

Times Staff Writer

A city schools committee is recommending that the Board of Education delay plans for the long-term lease of four closed elementary schools until the San Diego City Council, the school board and community groups settle their three-way battle over the use of surplus school sites.

The district’s Advisory Committee on Utilization of School Facilities will tell the board today to continue short-term leases for the former Cleveland, Muir, Grantville and Scripps elementary schools, and to offer a short-term lease for Montezuma Elementary School, which will close this year.

Current leases with tenants in the four former elementary schools will expire in coming months. The district had planned to offer 99-year leases to developers on all four as part of its controversial program to raise money for future school construction and rehabilitation.

But it has become more practical to delay while lawsuits contesting two previous 99-year leases are settled, a task force of council and school board members reviews the sites and a school district study of facilities is carried out, the panel concluded.


“The thinking is that the district should find out what its own needs are and the needs of the community are . . . and digest all that before they make any significant commitment,” said Jay Neal, chairman of the committee.

“They’re aware that the events that are occurring could change the overall dealings with property,” said Linda Sturak, facility planning coordinator for the school system. “You can’t ignore the fact that there’s a task force working with the city. You can’t ignore that there’s litigation.”

School board President Susan Davis said Monday that it is likely that the board will adopt the recommendations.

The council and board established the joint task force last month after the council threatened legal action to block 99-year leases for the former Farnum Elementary School in Pacific Beach and the former Dana Junior High School in Point Loma to developers. City Councilman Mike Gotch has led the opposition, saying that the city may want to reserve the sites for parks or open space.


Both lease offers are tied up by lawsuits filed last year by the Community Coalition for Dana and the Beach Coalition for Farnum. The suits contend that residents of the surrounding communities were not adequately consulted about disposal of the sites.

In public hearings held by the school district last month, community residents voiced opposition to 99-year leases. Davis has pledged that the school district will not proceed with long-term leases while the task force is reviewing city and school district needs, a process that will take several months.

Community groups Monday took credit for the latest recommendations.

“It became obvious . . . that every time they tried a 99-year lease they were going to see a lawsuit,” said Chuck Grim, co-chairman of the Beach Coalition for Farnum.


“Dana is just a symbol,” said Claudia Engstrom, chairman of the Community Coalition for Dana. “We’re concerned with what’s happening citywide. The surrounding communities deserve input before the decision is made.”

But Stephen Temko, president of a Normal Heights group that wants money from the property program spent to expand crowded schools in his neighborhood, said: “We’re obviously disappointed.

“When you just give up sources (of income), you have to find new sources. Anytime you delay a lease, it just delays the funding.”

Each former school could generate $200,000 during the first year of a 99-year lease, and the four together could ultimately yield about $100 million for the school system, said J.V. Ward, director of the school system’s property management program.


Ward predicted that the district would ultimately be able to lease at least some of the four. “The world is filled with compromises,” he said.

For now, the advisory panel is recommending that Cleveland, Muir Grantville and Scripps be leased for one year, with an option to renew the lease for up to three years. Acceptable tenants would be state universities, community colleges, nonprofit organizations and private schools.

Montezuma should be offered to similar tenants for a maximum of five years, the panel said.